Revisited: An Orphan’s Memorial to Her Dying Mother
Mother, you are dying a horrible death, a finale consistent with a tragic life. Plagued by paranoid schizophrenia prior to and subsequent to my birth, the nature of our relationship remains unfathomable and immeasurably heartbreaking. Your imminent loss is disorienting. I find myself floundering, still fearful of you, still enraged and yet also inextricably tied to you in inconceivably baffling ways. – from “An Orphans Memorial to her Dying Mother,” by Sheri Heller
Many years ago, psychotherapist Sheri Heller sent me these gorgeous, moving words, part of an elegiac essay addressed to her mother Pearl, in which she described her journey growing up with a mother who lived with, and never found treatment for, paranoid schizophrenia. I was so moved by Sheri’s story, particularly with her resolve to find the good in such suffering, that I proposed we create a short, animated film to create the world Sheri expressed so well in text. I had worked with the talented animator team of Paul and Sandra Fierlinger before and knew their incredibly imaginative vision would be a good match for Sheri’s tender story.
Soon after, I met Sheri in a basement recording studio somewhere in Brooklyn, and we recorded an interview about her life with her mother, excerpts of which were used as the narration for this film.
There was a time when she came back from the mental hospital and she seemed lucid, and I remember holding her and I didn’t want to let her go. I could smell her perfume. But she always left.
The talented sound designer Mark Schultz crafted a remarkably fitting audio world to match the Fierlinger’s visual one, and our work was complete. The film premiered on our site in 2016 (wow!) and was then shared on public television. Sheri has since moved from New York to Montreal, where she is offers therapeutic coaching informed by over three decades in the public and private mental health sectors of NYC.
“The paradoxical journey of life contains both great joy and debilitating suffering,” is a passage on Sheri Heller’s website. Life has certainly shown me this to be true. As I watch the film now, so many years later, I’m struck with how painful the raw hurt is, and am still impressed with Sheri’s commitment to use the arts as a way to process and reclaim her life experience, and also as an invitation to others to join her on a journey of healing. I’m grateful to all of the artistic collaborators on this journey, and send Sheri wishes for peace as she continues her journey.
There’s no resolution. All the pain and the suffering that I went through has found is being given creative expression because I’m trying to salvage what’s good. I’m trying to find those pieces in the wreckage that are life-affirming.